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«RELIGIOUS DIFFERENCES: SUBJECTIVITY AND ALTERITY IN THE CHANSON DE ROLAND by Normand Raymond Bachelor of Arts, Laurentian University, 2001 Master of ...»

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could quarrel leads us to believe that for Roland, as for Olivier, subjectivity implies differentiation from those around us.

We can see that, for both Roland and Olivier, being placed before a situation is not merely to occupy a location. Rather, it supposes the mobilization of values and subjective involvement. To be somewhere, to act or respond differently to a given situation implies that each subject is incomplete and inconsistent, and in need of developing further possibilities through a relationship with all the otherness to be found in the world. It involves an act of decision, different in each case, since both characters must decide to be with a valued response, or not to be with a valued response. Both Roland and Olivier, faced with the same situation, must differently decide to enter in communion with the values proposed (in this case, those values proposed by Roland’s leadership; values against which Olivier rebels, in part), or to pull back in separation (a separation at least partly indicated by Olivier’s temporary withdrawal from his friendship with Roland170), to identify with a subjectivizing process, or to take the position of detachment. The development of any and of all of these possibilities requires an active receptivity that involves both undergoing and outgiving, that is to say, an active giving and opening of the subject to “others”.

In choosing to act, or to respond in different manners to the situation unfolding, both Roland and Olivier have chosen to live their lives differently, to subjectivize in their world in a manner that distinguishes each from the other. This distinction is made manifest in their heated The two friends will, of course, be reunited later in the poem. See verses 1989-2009.

exchange and argument. It is one thing to be inculcated a set of values, or to have values, it is another to exercise them in a varied set of circumstances. Both of these men are facing death, and therefore, both men are reacting differently to the context of their potential demise. Faced with the potential negation of their subjectivity, one could argue that Roland fetishizes immortality (Transcendent and temporal-cultural) in a manner that is not shared by Olivier. I believe that it would be appropriate to state that their differing as to the appropriate response is a difference in Sorge. The quarrel between Roland and Olivier (both of whom are members of the same class and society, both of whom are equally educated in a warrior code), essentially revolves around a consideration of the right course of action when faced with the potential onslaught from the Saracens. Both men disagree as to how best to care for the continuity of their respective subjectivities. That a divergence could arise between these two very similar men clearly highlights the openness of their lives and context.

Roland and Olivier are different by appropriating different motivations, inclinations, and subjective projects. This also suggests, once more, that the concept with which we must deal with when reading these characters, is that of “subjectivity”. For it would seem, at least to some degree, that, regardless of the communal ethos with which these characters may have been inculcated, regardless of the importance of glory as an external determinant of individual value, there is in fact a process, however ambiguous or confused, of “subjectivization” going on here.

Foucault has indicated just how this process was deployed in ancient civilizations:

The few great common laws – of the city, religion, nature –remained present, but it was as if they traced a very wide circle in the distance, inside of which practical thought had to define what could rightfully be done. … Therefore, in this form of morality, the individual did not make himself into an ethical subject by universalizing the principles that informed his action; on the contrary, he did so by means of an attitude and a quest that individualized his action, modulated it, and perhaps even gave him a special brilliance by virtue of the rational and deliberate structure his action manifested. 171 These “attitudes” Foucault mentions, these different modes of “questing” and definitions of what is rightfully to be done, are indeed some of the strongest narrative elements of the poem.

Over and over again, individual characteristic traits pop up and conflict with those of other characters. Over and over again, different subjectivizing processes conflict with one another within the same Truth horizon. All the Christian characters agree as to their faithfulness to Lord and God, yet they vary in their responses and actualizations of that faithfulness.

The differing interpretations, given for instance by Ganelon (when he counsels accepting the Saracen offer172), by the duke of Naimes (when he suggests that the Franks should extend mercy to the Saracens173), by Turpin (both in his counsel to the king174, as well as throughout the poem), by Roland, and by Olivier about the course of action that should be pursued undermines any assumption that one could have that the “Chanson de Roland” contains a singular meaning as to its characters view of what is involved in pursuing faithfulness to a Truth. The quarrels, which are interpretations competing as to the meaning of the actions to be undertaken, show something necessarily true about the world these subjects live in: that any world where there are multiple subjectivities can always be doubled, and what is interpreted and acted upon from a multiplicity of perspectives undermines the notion that there is an absolute facticity, a communally determined code that furnishes the one and original meaning as to how subjects act, to their moral fibre, or the manner in which they continue to be.





Foucault, The Use of Pleasure. Translated by R. Hurley, Pantheon, New York, 1985, p. 62.

See verses 220-229.

See verses 230-243.

See verses 264-274.

As a subject acting/reacting to the situation that is his society, capable of choice and action, he transforms the elements of his facticity into meanings and possibilities, into projects, projections, and a worldview which can be rightly said to symbolize or represent his situation.

For the world of his actions, and his death as a possibility of his acting determinedly in the world, is now a form of organization. It is a world not merely inherited from the community, not merely abstractly signified by the rigidity of social mores, roles, and societal statuses, but rather, a world that has become a meaningful totality from the viewpoint of the subject’s undertaking this procedural transformation. Roland, for instance, lives in the situation that he has structured, the situation of ultimate conflict and ultimate death at Roncevaux, all of which is a world of his own making, a world highlighted and highlighting his own subjectivity, for this is a world which exists as it is for him, by the meaning he has chosen to give to the facts of his life and by the projects he has chosen for his future.

–  –  –

We must recall that Roland’s plea to his fellow Franks involves two dimensions. On the one hand, there is a call to heroic action. Warriors must not turn away from combat and the risk of death that it entails. On the other hand, Roland’s statement implies that there is a very marked moral division of the world into Christian and Saracens, into moral goodness and moral evil.

There is right, and there is wrong. Christians are right, and pagans are wrong. This brutal dichotomy is undoubtedly what most impresses itself in the minds of modern readers, unaccustomed to such neat and politically incorrect divisions.

That right and wrong may be said to exist, that the world may be said to be neatly divided into two different spheres of being, or moral orders, supposes that Roland’s statement, for all its apparent simplicity, actually presents the reader with an elaborate network of beliefs. Roland’s statement presents the reader with a worldview wherein fundamental questions of essence (what is right or what is wrong) are interrelated to modes of subjectivizing. The subjectivizing aspect of Roland’s comment is made manifest when we remember that the text is asserting that the Christians are right, and that the Saracens are wrong. If we give ourselves the trouble to sketch out the poem’s mode of philosophical thinking, we quickly realize that the concept of intersubjectivity, of a fusion of horizons, necessarily involves violence in connection to the “other”. Roland’s view of just how the world is organized, with its well-established cultural/moral boundaries and borders, clearly tells us that his is a world in which dialogue with any “other”, if it is to be even conceived, must be conceived as eristic. The “Chanson de Roland” is not interested in characterizing its protagonists as helping each other to see their partiality, or the blindness of their own insights. The narrative thrust of the poem is antithetical to the very idea that antagonists might have something to offer one another 175, nor is there any idea that the two sides might arrive at some mutually satisfactory common understanding. The “Chanson de Roland” is a poem of conquest, and the point of any cultural/moral dialogue is obviously to hold a position against another, and more importantly, to have that position triumph against another. Intersubjective encounters are therefore characterized by authoritative speech, as opposed to listening. One subject comes to dominate, or annihilate another character.

It is from within this antagonistic framework that we must analyze Roland. Roland’s simplistic ideas, his already matured opinions and beliefs, which do not evolve or change from the beginning of the text to his end, never open themselves to partnerships whose horizons might differ from his own. Whereas our own understanding of dialogue as a form of hermeneutics involving our subjectivity would imply change, progress, or transformation since the very act of dialoguing serves to open the partners to mutual understanding and recognition 176, the view of the world that Roland seems to be defending is counter-intuitive to our own modern understanding.

For Roland, any dialogue does not evolve or become in the space between the opposing sides. Space is something to be colonized, inhabited, and freed from any unwelcome subjectivities. The space separating two positions, two cultures or subjectivizing processes is If anything, offers, especially those made by Saracens, are to be distrusted. This is suggested by Roland when recounting the previous Saracen offers made to Charlemagne (see verses 201-209), as well as by the poem itself, since it essentially presents a tragedy that is brought about by having, foolishly, accepted a Saracen offer.

As Gadamer has suggested, in situations where there is an authentic degree of dialogue and recognition between the people engaging in an encounter, "something different comes to be". Gadamer, Philosophical Hermeneutics.

Translated and edited by David E. Linge, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1976, p. 58.

reserved for conflict and violent clashes. The horizon for an intersubjective encounter is quickly transformed into a battlefield177. Consequently, space does not give rise to exchange or any cultural ebb and flow, rather it is reserved for the formulaic insults that heroes hurl at one another before and after battle. Insults repudiate the notion of dialogue. The insults demonize the “other”. The insults, ultimately, repeat and reinforce what is already believed, what is already seen to be crucial about one’s own worldview. The space, or battlefield, where opposing armies collide merely serves to repeat and reinforce the very prejudices that the heroes have fashioned into personal mantras and credos178. The space where the two sides encounter one another becomes the site for a hardening of beliefs.

We have already seen that, for Roland at least, the very idea that any dialogue or entente should be entertained with the Saracens is anathema. Charlemagne, if he were to listen to

–  –  –

Charlemagne should not listen to the Saracens. It would be hard to imagine a stronger rejection of dialogue. Roland’s refusal to dialogue is further hardened when he is initially confronted by the Saracen army. He never once conceives of the possibility of negotiating with the enemy.

Throughout the battle, he retains and repeats his hostility to any notion of compromise or dialogue with those who, as Saracens, embody tort. And this pattern of the hardening of his beliefs, of his refusal to dialogue while reinforcing his one-sided beliefs is repeated throughout the text. For instance, when Samson is killed and the Frankish position is shown to have been Some commentators have seen the spatial element as predominant in their interpretation of the text, since the entire poem can be viewed as a struggle about spaces, about occupying spaces, about equating one’s personal valour in terms of conquered spaces. Space is the scene for one’s being/becoming to be inscribed. “Roland, in many ways, is about space –how to defend it; how to conquer it- and surely no one would read the poem without realizing that France, Spain, Saragossa, and Roncevaux are important to its interpretation”. Molly Robinson Kelly, The Hero’s Place. Medieval Literary Traditions of Space and Belonging. The Catholic University of America Press, Washington D.C., 2009, p. 118.

If Roland begins the battle by stating that Christians are right, and Saracens are wrong, this primary statement gets reinforced/repeated during the battle when he also says : “Après il dist: Culvert, mar I moüstes!/ De Mahumet ja n’I avrez aiüde/ Par tel glutun n’ert bataille oi vencue”. Verses 1335-1337.

weakened, Roland reacts to this death, not by rethinking the very modalities or necessities of war and the suffering that it engenders, but by hardening his dichotomous pre-understanding of the world, and of the actions that this pre-understanding motivate.

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